Friday, June 17, 2016

What You Should Know About Raising an Introvert

I've always been very reluctant to label my kids.  I think it's easy for kids to hear words used to describe them and then assume they have no choice but to become those descriptions.  I've always been a believer in the idea that words have power, which is probably why I need to stop calling the twins high maintenance.  They feel obligated to act accordingly.

However, I think it can sometimes be useful to know certain things about how your kids work and be able to address those to make sailing smoother for all involved.  Which is why I can say with almost absolute certainty that Sammy is an introvert.

This realization became obvious early on.  Sammy was a child with the ability to use complex sentences before the age of two, but he wasn't particularly keen on using them with everyone.  As he grew older, his desire to play on his own and to be easily overwhelmed by too many people around him continued to point the path to a more introverted child.

Sammy is five, and we've learned a few things on this journey.  D is a classic introvert, and I am about half and half, sometimes an extrovert who needs people to feed me energy and sometimes an introvert who is worn out by others.  Between the two of us, we've established a list of helpful things to know should you end up raising or being around an introverted child:

You have to convince them to go to places they enjoy.

Imagine this scenario:  Your child has waited for a year as he watched his older sister go to AWANAS.  Finally, the time has come for him to go be a Cubbie.  He has his vest on, his backpack ready, and it's time to leave when he announces, "I'm not doing this."  Why?  Just because.

After talking him through getting to AWANAS, you find out he had a blast with his friends and learned a lot of great things.  His teachers love him and he walks out the door with a smile on his face.  When you mention to him that he'll be back in a week, the smile disappears as he informs you, "I'm not going back."


This one stumped me until D stepped in and explained what socializing can be like for introverts.  He said, "You know how athletes do that whole pumping themselves up before a big game thing?  That's what introverts have to do before pretty much every social encounter, except they do it internally.  They have to drum up the energy to see people, figure out things to say to people, and hang out with people even after they want all the people to go away.  Even though he had a good time, he'll have to pump himself up everytime, and he probably won't look forward to or enjoy any social event until he's already in the middle of it.  That's the story of my whole life."

And this is EXACTLY what happened all five days of VBS this week.  Sammy went to VBS, played and won games, ate candy, and watched the girl leader get slimed when the boys brought in the most cash for missions.  Perfect week, and he came home smiling everyday.  Then every morning, he refused to admit he enjoyed a thing and moped his way to the car.  The only reason I am 100% sure he really did want to go is because the day he lost his sandals, he offered to wear his socks and shoes.  Socks.  Sammy was going to voluntarily wear socks just so he could go to VBS.

First day of VBS.  Wearing his shirt but still not sure.

Last day of VBS.  He had a blast all week but was still anxious about leaving the house.

You frequently try to solve the wrong problem.
Sammy generally goes into shutdown mode when he is upset, leaving me to try to figure out what happened.  What I used to do was pick what looked like the most likely problem and address it.  It took me years to figure out that more often than not I was solving an imaginary problem and missing the real one.  The right response with Sam is usually to wait until he is ready to talk.  He will then tell me what really upset him, and it is usually something I would have never figured out on my own.

They're not particularly shy.
For a long time I thought introverts were shy.  However, Sammy's not shy; he's just particular.  He wants to talk about what is important to him, but he doesn't need to talk all the time.  When he does start talking about his interests, which are currently squirrels, Kung Fu Panda, and the shapes of real anatomically correct hearts, he can talk forever.

People will make unfair assumptions or ignore them outright.
Because they don't talk as much or always have the right words at the right time, people tend to assume introverted kids are rude or ungrateful.  There have also been instances where people have talked to all three of my fairly extroverted daughters and completely passed over Sammy as if he wasn't even standing there.  In all of these situations, D or I will work to help the adult engage appropriately with Sam, and we will make sure to tell Sammy that those sort of experiences aren't his fault.

It was fun to watch Sammy flourish this week, and because I now know more about how he functions as an introvert, I was able to see his complaints about VBS for what they were: complaints about figuring out the delicate dance of socialization.  He loved the experience; it just took him much more effort to give it a try.


  1. My Sarah is an introvert, but I did not realize it until she was in 3rd-4th grade. I am not sure she was earlier on, or maybe I was not looking for the right things. Thank you for sharing! As an extrovert, I have trouble understanding her. This last year we moved her from Hebron to a private Christian school. Best move EVER! When I asked her recently about her friends from her new school, I asked if this one girl was an introvert too...Her reply, "Mom, it's Cambridge! We are all introverts! It is why we are so happy and love each other! We get each other!"

  2. I am so glad she found a place that gets her! I feel like it's easy to feel like extroverts are the overwhelming majority because they're more talkative, but I think there are actually a lot of introverts out there. They just don't actively seek each other out! It's great that she fell into a group of like minded people.